Above: The paint protest in 2014 (Eric Roper). Below-right: White Castle building as it looked in 1927 (Ohio History Connection, White Castle Digital Collection)
The city’s oldest White Castle building will remain standing, along with another of West Broadway Avenue’s few historical storefronts, but it did not win historic designation in a City Hall preservation fight.
The Kemps ice cream company had proposed knocking down the 1927 White Castle and neighboring 1897 International Order of Odd Fellows' Hennepin Lodge No. 4 to create a parking lot. The buildings, both owned by neighboring Kemps, are among the few remaining properties dating back to West Broadway's heyday as the North Side's thriving commercial spine.
A paint protest in 2014 aimed to instead inspire reuse of the buildings, adorning windows with images of customers in an ice cream shop (see photo above). The painting was later erased.
Council Member Blong Yang nominated both buildings for historic designation. After extensive review, the City Council on Friday affirmed a preservation board's recommendation to designate the Odd Fellows building but not the White Castle.
"While several interesting elements of the original [White Castle] building are still present, the building's integrity has been altered in such a way that it may no longer be able to convey its architectural significance," reads a portion of the designation study.
That left the White Castle building unprotected from demolition, but Kemps senior vice president Rachel Kyllo indicated this month that their plans have changed. "There are no plans to demolish in the near future," Kyllo wrote in an e-mail.
Above: A 1938 and 2015 aerial view of West Broadway Avenue. Most of the buildings surrounding 404-410 West Broadway have been demolished. Click here for larger image.
The White Castle building was constructed six years after the company was established, when it was making its first expansion into the Twin Cities.
It is one of the last surviving white enamel brick White Castle buildings in the country, and the last in Minneapolis. Another historic White Castle on Lyndale Avenue is constructed largely from porcelain and steel.
But as a condition of the building's sale in the 1940s, the building's castle-like tower and battlements were removed -- erasing much of its signature look. It served as a restaurant space for several decades, but has been vacant for many years.
Kemps' plant operations manager, Greg Blachfelner, wrote to the city that the buildings are in bad shape. "The property owner has not been conducting business in the buildings for many years," Blachfelner wrote in 2014. "A closer inspection of the buildings showed an extreme lack of any maintenance or upkeep, and presented unsightly and possibly unsafe conditions."
The other building, at 404 West Broadway, was home to an Odd Fellows lodge for more than 80 years. The designation study explained that the Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization, were pioneers of social welfare and women's rights. The building was last used as a grocery store.
The city's designation studies also outlined how few original buildings remain on West Broadway, following the construction of Interstate 94 and several shopping centers (see aerials above).
"This led to the current condition where the once continuous wall of storefront buildings now has many large gaps and is limited to a few areas on West Broadway," the study said.
The longest string of historical storefronts -- on the south side between Fremont and Bryant avenues -- suffered a major fire in 2015, requiring some of the buildings to be demolished.
At Friday's council meeting, Yang said he was disapointed the White Castle building was not designated. "It might be on its last leg, but it still has a leg," Yang said.